Perched in his 15th floor office at Cooperative Bank House in Nairobi, Fazul Mohamed pores over the skyline reminiscing on his controversial stint at the helm of the NGO coordination board.
The files of the NGOs he’s clamping in his sunset days at the board overflow from his desk to the glass window railings, obscuring the panorama of the city he has turned upside down in the last three years.
The portrait of the man he has zealously done bidding for - President Uhuru Kenyatta - hangs behind him subliminally nudging him. And the show, it appears, will go on to the last day of his recorded time at Coop House:
“The files you see here are the files of the NGOs I have either opened an inquiry on or we are pursuing to make them accountable. It’s nothing personal,” he says in the first “on record” interview on his work at the board.
When he thundered at the helm of the hitherto unknown board in 2014, Fazul brought with him fresh set of demands that donors henceforth be compelled to disclose all NGOs they were funding in Kenya, how much, sector funded and the funding duration.
Oblivious to the outcry
When this information began flowing, the man once described by our columnist as “the dream automaton for the dictator” set about to deploy it otherwise: Clamp-down of those which didn’t toe the line.
He’s oblivious to the outcry he has single handedly shrunk the once vibrant civil society space and run its honchos out of town. He laughs out aloud about the latter part of that statement:
“Look, of the 15,000 NGOs we have registered- and by the way we had 9,000 when I came in, how many have I targeted and have you heard any from health or education sector complaining? We can count with you. They are just about six,” he says as he twitches his fingers on a counting mode:
I roll it back on him: “That is what you should be telling me; why are you targeting NGOs in governance sector?” The bespectacled man with a greying hair sighs, leans back on his couch and shoots again:
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“They are stuck in the past. Forget me, they are suffering even a bigger existential threat; the epic donor shift from governance to core sectors that impact on the people - health, education, agriculture.”
He’s already wiggling out of it and I am not willing to let him get away with it.
I shift gears to the specifics. Picking on the matter of IFES, the American funded NGO which has supported electoral system in Kenya in the past, I ask him why he zeroed on it in the run up to last year’s poll.
He immediately charges up with a gulp of an energy drink he was taking and excitedly wags his finger pointing to the now smaller building beneath: “There… the Sh2.4 billion lies there in Central Bank, frozen to the core.”
At Fazul’s touch, IFES operations in Kenya crumbled but not before making an attempt at local registration through a prominent lawyer and picking on a daughter of a prominent politician for the Kenyan directorship.
To further insulate their application, IFES got averments for its US citizen directors from all authorities of note in the country, including former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Rex Tillerson.
“Indeed they wrote in support of the application. I have with me a letters signed by Tillerson and Kerry, complete with the original seals of the American government,” he says with a light chuckle.
Years on, Fazul is still processing their application.
On account of the self-possession casing of his moves, most people are wont to wish them away. But they are grossly mistaken as still waters tend to run deep.
The labyrinth of Fazul’s power base encompasses the top security honchos, top political leadership and the business luminaries.
Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri stumbled on Fazul’s steel cojones when he attempted to suspend him.
What followed was an executive order moving the board from Mr Kiunjuri’s Devolution Ministry to an even more powerful Office of the President with flowery tributes to boot:
“He has been instrumental and knowledgeable in the management of the charity sector in the country and has brought back sanity in an otherwise unregulated sector,” Devolution PS Saitoti Torome wrote to his Internal Security counterpart Karanja Kibicho in handing over notes.
With Kiunjuri out of way, Fazul began to flex harder on the NGOs.
Between May 17, 2016 and January 2018, Fazul drove away 321 top foreign NGO workers from the country by vetoing their work permit applications or renewals.
“In all of these applications, they were giving Kenyans a raw deal either in terms of pay disparity or possession of skills already available in the Kenyan market. I advised them to explore Kenyan markets for such skills and expertise,” he says.
And as the Fazul prodigy grew boundless, more people began to feel the pinch.
In the run-up to election, former Nairobi Governor, the wealthy Evans Kidero, received a double blow from Fazul: Closure of his foundation and the disproportionate reward of his rival Mike Sonko’s charity wing- Sonko Rescue Team.
“How did they win all these trophies when they were just registered the other day?” Kidero whined on TV after Fazul grinned wildly while awarding Sonko team with a glittery trophy for exemplary service to city residents.
In the interview, Fazul claimed he was misunderstood all through his tenure.
He claims he stood out for Kenya. He said due to his assertiveness, there are now more Kenyans running foreign NGOs, that pay disparities have decreased and that NGOs are more accountable.
“I am leaving this office with my head high. During my term, we became the leading charity regulatory body in the region and in Africa. Other countries have been trooping here to learn from us,” he says in a statement that could make KHRC’s George Kegoro shoot to the skies and back in rage.
In his words, the last three years at the board have been “nothing short of pure excitement and joy”.
His victims, still licking wounds, however say he has left a trail of destruction.